Comparison of Legislation Proposed by Members of Different Countries

Workshop Number 12

Led by Erik Hummels and Marian Franz

I. The United States - Marian Franz:

In the US the Peace Tax Fund bill has undergone a number of changes. The first bill, the World Peace Tax Fund bill, started with a long list of where the tax fund would go. Some of the places were not even to government expenditures. So the bill was changed to go to government programs such as, WIC (Women and Infants Care) and Head Start Programs (Programs for disadvantaged pre-kindergarten children to catch them up.) or to International Projects. A specific board would be established which would set up grant requests and determine where the Peace Tax money would go. The US President would name the members to the board. But Marian et al. were quickly reminded that ONLY Congress decides how to spend tax money.

The second bill, the US Peace Tax Fund bill, would have no board to decide where the money would go. The tax fund would be designated for two domestic programs (WIC and Head Start) and two international programs (The US Institute for Peace and the Peace Corps). Marian et al. realized that they were trying to do too much i.e., deciding where the money doesn't go and where it will go. Again, only Congress can determine where the money would go. Conscience only demands where the money can't go, not where it must go. So...

The third bill, the Religious Freedom Tax Fund bill, was simpler, much narrower, and had fewer difficulties. A religious belief was defined as a belief not necessarily in a Supreme Being but so compelling that it takes the place of One in your life. You had the freedom to have or not to have a religion. This bill designated only where the money WOULDn't go specifically - “anything but, to the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, or to Foreign Military aid.”

IN previous versions of the bill, to qualify as a Conscientious Objector for tax purposes one was required to answer three questions in essay form (the same questions to avoid serving/fighting in the military):

  1. What is the nature of my belief about war?
  2. How do I come to hold this belief?
  3. How does that belief affect my life?

In receiving CO status from the IRS there is no advantage, as you would still have to pay all of your taxes.

The Internal Revenue Service would then send you a (tax) receipt to attach to your income taxes when filing. The military portion would instead then go to a separate Peace Tax fund in the US Treasury. It mattered greatly to the IRS that Marian et al. were willing to compromise. The Senate Finance Committee informed them that, the IRS doesn't like to be told how to do something. So, the US Treasury decides how to use the money in the latest version of the bill

For a CO in a war, s/he would have the advantage of not being on the battlefield. But for tie Religious Freedom Tax Fund there is no advantage to being a CO. You still must pay the same amount of taxes. So there is the problem of the ‘shell game’ i.e., this won't in any way diminish the military budget. The money is just moved around. (Marian does very much regret that the military budget is not in any way reduced by the RFTF bill, and will continue to work to find a way around that.) But as Marian explained:

  1. It would mean so much to have the world's largest military power ever acknowledge that there is such a thing as a conscientious objector who is against military spending. And
  2. People of conscience would not be banished to live outside the law. With this bill the IRS would no longer have to pursue or prosecute anyone who wasn't paying taxes for reasons of conscience. Congress must make a yearly report of the money in this fund and the number of people who have filed tax money into it.

Marian said that. Over time it will change things.

II The United Kingdom - Jackie Hoskins

The current (draft) bill in the UK was introduced into Parliament in October 1999. Under the UK system there are several types of bills that can be introduced. Jackie's Conscience group introduced a 10 Minute Rule bill: the MP gets ten minutes in the House to talk about the bill. In the UK there isn't, as it seems there is in the US, a succinct title for bills, e.g. the Military Expenditure (Conscientious Objector) bill.

In the UK the first paragraph of the draft IS the title. In the draft bill there are no details as to how it would work. Jackie et al. have a proposal as to how they'd like to see the bill work but that is not in the draft. After the paragraph title is read there is a speech (2-3 pages long), which gives the background and reasons why they are asking for the bill.

This draft bill builds upon existing legislation from the 1960 Military Act, which made Conscientious Objection to military service a legal right. The draft bill presents CO status to avoid paying taxes to the military/war as an extension of that legal right given in 1960, and as a basic human right. Jackie noted that wars now are unlike wars of the past (even of the early part of this century), in that COs are now under financial conscription and the weaponry is so costly.

The first reading of the bill in Parliament is really a statement. At that reading the date for the second reading is given. The Parliament recesses in November; so anything still remaining falls off the agenda. They have to go back each time to introduce a new bill if it has not gotten past the draft stage. Jackie et al. are not far enough along with the bill yet to be working out the details. When the draft readings have taken place the next stage is to work out the details with MPs and to get it debated. Then the proposed legislation is read as a bill.

The money that would be withheld in the UK bill is only that portion that would go to military spending. That portion would go into the Non Military Security Fund; whereas, all of one's tax money in the US bill would go into the Religious Freedom Tax Fund. Jackie said that it is impossible because of scheduling, etc. to introduce a bill more than once a year. They plan to introduce the bill again in 2001.

III. Norway - Frank Sivertsen

Norway is the third country of only three that now have Peace Tax bills pending in their legislatures. In June 2000 one MP from the Socialist Party read the Private Property bill which was written by Frank and four Quakers. In Norway, a bill automatically goes to committee after it is read. The Committee of Finance will start hearings in September 2000. Another MP from another party will be responsible for this bill. We will lobby that MP and the rest of the Finance Committee. In 6 months the bill will then be voted on in the Parliament. In Norway it is very easy to introduce a bill. (For this reason there is now a lot of discussion to change this system)

In his bill Frank used models of other bills to write his own. He gave the background, explained why they wanted the bill and presented the arguments as already cited in previous bills from other countries i.e., human rights and the conscience He got support from various well known people in Norwegian society, such as the Director of the Institute of Human Rights, professors of Philosophy, writers, singers, etc.

The bill is based on the extension of the right to refuse military service, which was legislated at an earlier date It is a one sentence proposal that states that any citizen should have the right to refuse to pay taxes to the military and that that tax money should go into a Peace Tax Fund in the National Treasury. The government would decide who would be on the PTF Board, which would determine where the money would go.

The Quakers got the Socialist Party MP to introduce the bill but Frank could not find any other MPs to introduce the bill with that MP (In Norway it is not popular to cooperate with the Socialist Party.) They will now look for cosponsors for the bill maybe from the Labor Party The fact that fifty-seven MPs in the Labor Party in Britain support peace tax legislation in their own country may inspire the Labor Party in Norway to support the Norwegian version (The Labor Party in Norway often looks to their analogue party in Britain as an example.) Their task now will be to lobby and work to persuade MPs. It will not be so easy as Frank has a full time job and the Quakers live two hours away from Oslo.

IV. Hungary - János Rátkai

In Hungary they have not yet introduced a bill. János has read other bills and is deciding what principles he wants to include in his bill and how to spend the Peace Tax Fund. The Peace Tax Fund would go only to non-military peacemaking and security. He thinks there are two opposing ways to make peace and provide security for Hungary:

  1. Violent: the military
  2. Non-violent: conflict prevention and resolution, peace research, non-violent movements.

The Hungarian Constitution requires its citizens to contribute to the defense of their home and nation. But János et al. do not see national defense as the sole purview of the military. There are the non-violent alternatives also. He sees it as good PR (public relations) to convey that this idea is neither Utopian nor madness but simply real politics, something very real and possible.

They want a longer lasting solution and believe that the non-violent way could better accomplish that. János thinks his idea is good for two reasons:

  1. It addresses the existing requirement to have domestic defense and security. It is important to address that requirement and need so that the public would see the merits and logic of a non-violent alternative. It is consciousness raising and spreading the word to not only get more public support but also more COs.
  2. This solution has a strong advantage since it addresses the Substitution problem. (Peace tax money while going to peaceful purposes would simply be replaced by/substituted for by moving other tax money in its place. The net effect would be no difference in the military budget. Military spending would remain the same. This problem is also referred to as a shell game.) If a large proportion of voters support the PTF then it would be impossible, theorizes János, to spend too much money on the military. The legislative body could then determine how much to spend on defense as a whole and how much of that whole would go to military and non-military defense. Perhaps, a separate ministry for the peaceful defense could be established. This could safeguard against the substitution problem. The success of this idea depends greatly on the amount of support it gets from the people. If a large proportion of voters back the PTF then it would be impossible for the military budget to go too high.

Let my nation and others defend Justice as a whole. exhorts János. Bravo!

V.  Russia - Sergei Nikitin

Sergei is at the very beginning of this process He sees his first job as one of making as many people as possible aware of the merits of a Peace Tax Fund. Then when more people are interested they can get together to strategize, draft a bill and lobby the members of the Duma. Sergei admitted that lobbying on such a matter would be quite unusual since currently people generally contact their Duma member with basic problems such as. “I don't have a place to live” or “My salary is too low.”

Sergei intends to use a cooperative approach in his work, especially with the Duma.

VI. The Netherlands - Erik Hummels

In 1989 a Peace Tax Fund bill was introduced into the Dutch Parliament. This bill was similar to the earlier PTF bills in the US that Marian had first proposed in that they prescribed how the PTF would be spent It was much discussed and got all sorts of objections Eventually, the bill didn't die but was withdrawn in 1997 because all of those (from the Green Left Party) who had introduced it were no longer in the Parliament And the Green Left Party members who were then in Parliament did not want to introduce such a bill again (Since the Persian Gulf War and the Yugoslav War the consensus in Dutch society and their Parliament is that their military is doing a good job.)

Erik et al. learned, just as Marian et al. had, that the Parliament is very covetous of its sole, proprietary, constitutional right to decide and designate where tax money goes So when they write up the next bill it will include all that they have learned from their own and from the US experiences e.g., they will not try to tell the Parliament how to spend the PTF.

Reporter: Gerri Michalska